Howard F. Stein, a professor of Family and Preventive Medicine who taught at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center for 32 years, an unequivocal Renaissance man, has published approximately 33 books ranging from varied aspects of anthropology, applied anthropology, medicine, psychology, psychoanalysis, and psychohistory, including many extraordinary books of poetry. Howard is as humble as he is brilliant, stating he is not a “self-made man,” but one who was helped by many people, as well as institutions. Many have “opened doors and let him in to stay.” Many “claimed” him, as if saying “You and your voice belong here.” Howard Stein (2017) appreciates this as “one of life’s most precious gifts” (p. xi).

Howard Stein is the best colleague one could only wish for. He is an intimate listener who hears what is being said—with both his head and his heart. He is kind, empathetic, and never too busy if you need his advice, opinion, or conversation. His listening never includes imposing his views on another person, but his response is offered to open new, wider pathways of thought for the person to

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consider.

As for Howard Stein’s poetry, it will fill your mind with wonder and touch your heart and soul, no matter whether it is a love song, a dedication to a friend or a doctor, a medical condition that he had to battle, or about a change of mood with the life seasons coming and going. Howard’s talent as a poet led the High Plains Society for Applied Anthropology (HPSfAA) to honor him with the title of Poet Laureate.

Sigmund Freud is attributed a quote, “Poets are masters of us ordinary men, in knowledge of the mind, because they drink at streams which we have not yet made accessible to science.” We do not know if he really said that. But he did write the following (and this could definitely be applied to Howard Stein):

We laymen have always been intensely curious to know… from what sources that strange being, the creative writer, draws his material, and how he manages to make such an impression on us with it and to arouse in us emotions of which, perhaps, we had not even thought ourselves capable. (Freud, 1908, p. 143)

Stein’s poetry reflects his knowledge of the mind that involves all aspects of humanity’s soul, and we find all interactions possible in what he writes. As he wrote in the Introduction to his poetry book Centre and Circumference, “Far from being diminished by science, poetry can inform and rescue science as well as, in turn, be inspired by science” (Stein, 2018, p. xvii).

Centre and Circumference is an amalgam of Howard’s many areas of study and feelings, featuring both worldly and personal outlooks. The poetry book is a cohesion of all the world has to offer for everyone to absorb. It actually offers three collections of poems on the topics “Love and Life,” “Time and Memories,” and “Work and Society.” Each could make a rightful and complete publication on its own.

In the “Love and Life” section, his poems memorably render his romantic side in the warmest and most welcoming manner. Surely the closeness of hugs could not be better described than in his poem “Embraces”:

You hugging me,
I hugging you —
Not so easily parsed

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As it may appear.
Your arms envelop
my body, as if
they could reach
all the way around
as if you had extended
an invitation
Soon I could not tell
Where your hug ended
And mine began… (Stein, 2018, p. 5)

Within the same section, his very touching poem, “Purpose,” is felt as written by the greatest lyric poet of all times, Sergey Yesenin:

What is the purpose
For my heart to beat
If it’s not for you?
What is the reason
For my heart to break
If it’s not over you?… (Stein, 2018, p. 20)

In the “Time and Memories” section, Howard Stein pays homage to his never met uncle Hyman, after whom he was named, in his poem “Uncle Hymen: In Memoriam.” His uncle, “1st Sgt. Hymen H. Stein, killed in action in World War II during the Ardennes Offensive, 19 January, 1945” (Stein, 2018, p. 50) a man of great valor, wounded twice, and while still recovering, felt the need to return to his men. Stein wonders if he can live up to that name, as he writes:

Dear Uncle Hymen,
You died a year before I was born,
yet had pursued me all my life.
You were killed while attacking
A German bunker in the Ardennes,
The Battle of the Bulge.

and

My father named me for you
And often called me by your name.
… If I am you, what am I called upon
To do to end the grief that has been
My companion all these years?
Is it my duty to keep your memory alive,
Or to allow you finally to have died? (Stein, 2018, p. 49)

In that same section, Howard Stein remembers his many visits to

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Ghost Ranch, NM, in “Time and Stone, Ghost Ranch, NM”:

Canyons and mesas,
Mountains and valleys…
…Awe brings me here
year after year,
to stir my imagination,
to uncover with reverence
the footprint of time. (Stein, 2018, p. 75)

And in his poem “Imperceptibly,” one could hear Tchaikovsky’s “Seasons: Autumn Song” in the background:

Autumn flirts with sky…
…I do not know what I wish more —
For the leaves to linger or to fall,
How much of the night I want to see.
Autumn does not ask my preference… (Stein, 2018, p. 68)

In that same section, in “Mycoplasma Winter,” Howard Stein recalls the force of unrelenting bacterial infection that was met with another force, of one human’s vulnerability and humility:

Atypical pneumonia…
This mycoplasma
Joined forces with asthma,
each breath a triumph… (Stein, 2018, p. 83)

And in “Recognition, for H.B.” dedicated to his doctor, Howard Stein writes with appreciation:

You give me extra time
when I come to see you;
… you are always at the legislature
to demand help for
patients whose sickness
and madness fall through the cracks.
Your folks fought in the Resistance…
They did not give up then;
Nor do you now.
I am grateful for both. (Stein, 2018, p. 87)

In the section “Work and Society,” Dr. Stein covers so many aspects of endless relationships: from uncaring bosses to their employees, from haters to refugees, and even to councils of foxes overseeing ever diminishing coops of chickens. He is saddened by corporate greed and the uncaring attitude toward loyalty. In his poem

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“Downsizing,” he writes:

People I worked with yesterday,
today are suddenly whisked away;
no one asks where they go —
or even really wants to know.
There is no blood to show
For all their disappearance;
They just are
Not around anymore. (Stein, 2018, p. 111)

In the same poem, Howard Stein notes how this not caring attitude is infecting us as a society:

What is happening
has not happened,
and if it has,
we do not want to know. (Stein, 2018, p. 111)

While Howard Stein is a great lover of music and finds music in all he thinks and feels, he also recognizes that it could signify the disturbance in the world and society, as in “A Little Morning Music Under Stalin”:

Shostakovich over breakfast
Is not such a good idea…
His music is an astringent
For the soul, takes you
To places of sorrow and despair
Deeper than Dante’s final circle. (Stein, 2018, p. 121)

Howard was correct in stating:

Listen to Shostakovich only
When you have the stomach
For a world you could not make up… (Stein, 2018, p. 121)

… And my memory brings the chronicles from 1942, Leningrad’s blockade, and Shostakovich’s Symphony Number 7, performed by half of the Leningrad’s Orchestra (as the rest of them died from starvation). One could not make this up.

In the Foreword to Centre and Circumference, I compared Howard Stein’s work with Oliver Sacks’s “anthropological house calls” (Sacks’ term). The “house” for Howard is not one person’s house, but all of humanity’s soul. I hope that this collection of Howard Stein’s healing poetry will be appreciated, enjoyed, and

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felt viscerally by many more readers, and perhaps, with their own musical creations in the background.

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References:

  • Freud, Sigmund (1908). Creative writers and day-dreaming. Standard Edition, 9, 141-154.
  • Stein, Howard (2018). Centre and circumference. MindMend Publishing.

Authors:

Inna Rozentsvit

Inna Rozentsvit, MD, PhD, MBA, MSciEd, is a neurologist and neurorehabilitation specialist trained in psychoanalysis. She is a founder and neuropsychoeducator at the non-profit organization NeurorecoverySolutions, Inc., a programs director at the Object Relations Institute for Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, and editor-in-chief of the ORI Academic Press, MindMend Publishing Co., and MindConsiliums, the interdisciplinary journal.
She may be contacted at inna.rozentsvit@gmail.com or www.innarozentsvit.com. 

How to Cite This:

Rozentsvit, I. (2022). A book of healing musical poetry: Howard Stein’s intersubjective creativity. In D. R. Beisel, P. H. Elovitz, & N. D’Andria (Eds.), Howard Stein Festschrift. Clio’s Psyche, 29(1), 94-99.

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